OAKLAND, Calif. -- The 87th World Series was put on 24 hours notice last night, not long after the reincarnated Big Red Machine rolled into the Oakland Coliseum and ran down the once-mighty Oakland Athletics again.
It was supposed to be a mismatch and that's what it has become, but it is the surprising Cincinnati Reds who are on the brink of a four-game sweep after a seven-run third inning led them to a resounding 8-3 victory in Game 3.
Third baseman Chris Sabo made one of baseball's most spacious stadiums look like a broom closet, hitting home runs in his first two at-bats, as the Reds sent Oakland starter Mike
Moore to his first postseason loss in five starts.
The A's had hoped that the home-field advantage and the addition of designated hitter Harold Baines would put them back on the road to their second straight world championship, but instead they are one game away from an ignominious, four-game loss to a team that was given almost no chance to win the Series.
This is what the A's are up against. No team ever has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win either the playoffs or the World Series. For that matter, no professional team in any major American sport has come back from three games down in a best-of-seven series to win a championship final since the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League did it in 1942.
If the A's hadn't spent the past three games scoring like a hockey team they wouldn't be in this mess. Now they can only hope that right-hander Dave Stewart can keep the Series alive when he gets a rematch with Jose Rijo tonight.
"I think it's fair to say that our club is upset," manager Tony La Russa said. "We have a lot of competitors who don't enjoy getting beat. We've been beaten three games in a row. Fortunately, it's a four-game Series. I feel pretty good about our chances Saturday."
The Reds have to feel pretty good about their chances of winning one of the next four games, especially after winning lopsided decisions in two of the first three.
"I said before Game 1 that we didn't come here just to provide competition," Reds manager Lou Piniella said. "We came here to win, and I think we've got a pretty good chance."
The Reds threw all their support behind left-hander Tom Browning, who worked six innings and gave up three runs on six hits before turning a five-run lead over to reliever Rob Dibble in the seventh. Dibble retired five straight batters and gave way to Randy Myers. Both were about as nasty as they get.
The begoggled Sabo delivered the two biggest swings, but the Reds had at least one hit from every member of the starting lineup except designated hitter Hal Morris by the time they were through batting around in the third. So who needed the DH anyway?
This has been a National League showcase from the start. The A's were outplayed in Game 1, and La Russa was outmanaged in Game 2. But who would have figured they'd be overmatched on their home turf?
"I don't think that there is anything happening that anybody hasn't seen before," La Russa said. "They're doing what they have to do to win. They've got a lot going for them, and they roughed us up. It didn't feel good. We've been on the other side, and it doesn't feel good to be on this side."
The A's were faced with something of a worst-case scenario to begin with, though no one was going to admit to it. Stewart and Bob Welch had come up empty in the first two games, leaving Moore in a must-win situation at a time when he isn't exactly a must-win kind of guy. He entered the game with a 4-0 record in postseason play and a victory over the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs, but he has been inconsistent all year.
This time, inconsistent wasn't the right word. Moore was pummeled into submission. He was beaten up so quickly and decisively that long reliever Scott Sanderson barely had time to get loose in the bullpen before he was out there giving up line drives, too.
Moore gave up three hits in the first inning without surrendering a run, but that should have been a sign of bad things to come. Sabo opened the second with a home run, and all hell broke loose in the third.
The Reds sent 11 men to the plate against Moore and Sanderson, both of whom were under heavy fire during the biggest single inning in World Series play since the 1987 Minnesota Twins scored seven runs against the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth inning of Game 1.
Moore lasted 2 2/3 innings and gave up eight hits and six runs (two earned) in the shortest performance by a World Series starter since New York Yankees left-hander Dave Righetti worked just two-plus against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981.
Moore might have gotten off easier if Mark McGwire had been able to pick up a hard shot that skipped through his legs with a runner on and one out, but the error was hardly inexcusable. McGwire was playing inside the bag to hold the runner, and the ball was rifled right at his feet.